Lawmakers push to close DWI loopholes

Senator Charles Fuschillo holds an ignition interlock at Senator Charles Fuschillo holds an ignition interlock at a press conference where Rice discussed swift passage of legislation to close a legal loophole which is allowing convicted drunk drivers to escape the mandatory ignition interlock requirement under Leandra's Law at her office in Mineola. (Dec. 30, 2012) Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

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As revelers prepare to toast the new year, state lawmakers announced plans Sunday to reintroduce bills aimed at forcing convicted drunken drivers to use court-ordered devices that won't let them drive if alcohol is detected on their breath.

State Sen. Charles J. Fuschillo Jr. (R-Merrick) and Assemb. Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said they want to close loopholes in Leandra's Law, a measure both successfully pushed in 2009 that requires all convicted DWI offenders to install an ignition interlock device. Drivers blow into the device, which prevents a car from starting if alcohol is detected.

At a news conference in the Mineola office of Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice, both legislators and Rice said offenders have circumvented the law by claiming they do not own or drive a car, or transferring ownership of the car used in the crime until the 6-month penalty expires.

"The State Legislature must make this legislation a top priority to save lives and prevent tragedies," Fuschillo said.

More than 70 percent of the more than 37,000 DWI offenders statewide who are required to install the device have failed to do so, according to 2012 state Department of Criminal Justice Services figures.

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The legislators propose requiring those who cannot install the car device to wear an ankle bracelet that can detect if the offender has been consuming alcohol.

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The new legislation would also specify that offenders must install the ignition interlock device on any car they own or operate, or the car they were driving when they were pulled over for driving while intoxicated. If offenders do not comply with using either device, they would be ineligible to get their license reinstated under the proposed changes.

The law was named after Leandra Rosado, 11, killed while riding in a car driven by her friend's mother, who was found to be intoxicated.

Leandra's Law was initially aimed at those found driving while intoxicated with a child younger than 15 in the car, but in 2010 the ignition interlock requirement was phased in to include all drivers convicted of drunken driving charges, including first-time offenders, according to the state Department of Justice website.

Fuschillo and Weisenberg sought to close the loopholes during the 2012 legislative session, but while the changes passed in the Senate, they failed to make it out of the Assembly's Transportation Committee. Assemb. David Gantt (D-Rochester), who chairs the committee, said at the time the measure needed further review. Marge Lee, president of the Franklin Square-based group Drive Educated Drive Informed Commit And Totally End Drunk Driving, said the changes were needed to save lives.

"I've been doing this for over 20 years and there isn't one year that Long Island families, New York families haven't been devastated by drunk drivers," Lee said. "It's time it stops."

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